Trinidad Carnival

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Trinidad Carnival

Carnival is a festival of colours which is transformed into costumes, calypso, steel band music, dance and different foods and Caribbean art which attracts many people from the different countries. The carnival season is usually during the two weeks before the traditional Christian fasting of Lent. This is celebrated to mark an overturning of daily life.The roots of carnival both lay in Africa and France(Liverpool:57).

Trinidad carnival is a very significant festival in the island of Trinidad and Tobago. This festival has evolved from an elegant, exclusive affair to an all inclusive national festival of the country. Therefore in order to understand the meaning of this festival one must look at the acculturation, cultural assimilation and cultural persistence. It is also necessary historical, social, cultural and political background which gave birth to a national celebration.

In 1498 Christopher Columbus had step on the soils of Trinidad and claimed the island in the name of the King and Queen of Spain. The country was ruled by Spain for about 300 hundred years and remained much undeveloped. In the 1970s the Bourbon reforms of Charles III, which was designed to rejuvenate flagging colonial effiency, is when the Spanish crown decided to pay attention Trinidad which at that time was thinly populated and uncultivated at that time. A Cedula issued by the Spanish crown in 1776 highlighted the island’s neglected state with no European Spaniards available for emigration; it invited West Indian French Catholics who were dissatisfied by Britain’s 1763 take over of their Antillean islands which were Grenada, Dominica, St.Vincent and Tobago to settle in Trinidad. They were encouraged to buy land grants to set up agricultural units under their own and to transfer slaves in quantity to work these plantations. By 1797 approximately 14,000 French settlers came to live in Trinidad consisting of about 2,000 whites and 12,000 slaves. Studies by Barry Higman and Melville Herskovicts show that the majority of African slaves who were brought to Trinidad were mainly of the Mandinka,Fulbe,Kwakwa,Yoruba,Hausa,Igbo and Kongo peoples(Liverpool:62).Most of the native people who were the Amerindians died from forced labour and illness.

Carnival was introduced to Trinidad in around 1785 as the French settlers began to arrive, they called it Carnevale.This tradition caught on quickly. Carnival of the French was held during the Lenten season starting on Boxing day to Ash Wednesday was marked by great merrymaking and feasting by both the French and the English.Carnival, as the end of the social season was also marked at the apex society by elaborate balls to which was added the custom of masking and disguising. They wore masks to hide their faces from their friends and play sexual “games” on their wives, husbands and mistresses, the enslaved Africans were not allowed at their sex games or their dinners but in the masquerade imitated their tattered clothing thus making fun of them (Liverpool:127). But the major part of carnival activities consisted of house to house visiting and street promenading, on foot or in carriages, witticisms, playing of music and dancing and a variety of frolics and practical jokes (Pearse, 1956:15). The French serenaded their fellow men with flute, violin and African drum. Already African drums and Spanish instruments had been adopted by the Frenchmen in the music making (Liverpool: 127). Until 1838 when the Africans were legally set free the majority of the English and Scots celebrated Christmas, New Years and Carnival with rowdy balls and fetes. Marital law which finally ended in 1846 was traditionally enforced by the English colonies in the Caribbean from Christmas through the first or second week of January.(Liverpool:132)These festivities along with the pomp and ceremony involved in imposing marital law (this included maneuvers by the militia), provide the slaves with ideas for some of the...
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